John Green’s novel Paper Towns captures the essence of life and relationships for young adults with elements of humour and mystery. Adapted for the screen by director Jake Schreier, rising star Nat Wolff (who played Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars, adapted from Green’s 2012 novel), plays Quentin (Q) Jacobsen, who has been captivated by the charismatic Margo Roth Spiegelman (Cara Delevingne) since the age of nine. Now about to finish high school, Margo and Q hang out in very different groups. Q’s life has been mapped out; he has plans to become a doctor. In contrast, the elusive Margo is impetuous, instinctive and lives in the moment. Margo enlists Q to help her set up a series of pranks, and then mysteriously vanishes, leaving a trail of clues to find her and Q and his friends on a road trip of discovery. We meet the author on the film’s set, as the director and his cast are shooting a scene that takes place on the road trip when Q and his pals stop at a gas station. Here, Green shares his feelings about seeing his novel translate to the big screen.
You are an executive producer on Paper Towns. How interested are you in that aspect of your work?
That’s a made up title for me! I’m not a movie person deep down. There are producers who do stuff, but also producers who don’t do anything and I’m one of those. I’m not kidding. I don’t do anything! I love being here on the set and I feel really lucky to be able to work with these people I like and respect. I’m very lucky that I like [the films] Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars so much, because the vast majority of authors who get movies made from their books are not in the position that I’m in. I love this movie. I feel fortunate in that respect.
What’s Paper Towns all about?
It’s a story about a young man who has been in love with his neighbour, Margo, for most of his life, but he’s been failing to understand her. It’s about what happens when you dehumanise people by romanticising them.
What does Nat Wolff bring to the role of Q?
He is one of my best friends so I’m biased. The thing is, when you have a good friend who also has amazing talent the way Nat does, you almost have to separate them by going: this is Nat my friend and then there’s Nat the genius over there. I am so proud of him because he had a relatively small part in The Fault in Our Stars, but he was brilliant. He stole every scene that he was in. I wanted him to be Q pretty much from the moment I met him.
Why was Cara Delevingne cast as Margo?
I don’t know anything about supermodels to be honest with you, so when Cara auditioned for the role I didn’t have any idea who she was. But when she auditioned, she was the best person for the part. I didn’t know this at the time, but I think one of the reasons that Cara is so good is that she understands what it’s like to have people make broad conclusions about you based on very limited information. Also, Cara is an intense, fun person who has more charisma than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s a bit of a mystery to me how charisma works, but she has it by the boatload.
What’s the relevance of the title?
A paper town is a weird phenomenon in cartography that happens when mapmakers put fake places on their maps in order to protect their copyright. If I am a cartographer and I see that you put that fake place on your map in the same place, I can tell you’ve copied it. What is interesting is that the paper town, Agloe, New York, is now a real place. There’s a barn there just like there is in the movie.
How do you manage to communicate with teenagers so well about complex subjects like philosophy and the meaning of life, but make it entertaining and fun?
Kids do talk about the meaning of life. They’re not afraid to ask those big questions about whether there is meaning and order to human existence. With Paper Towns I wanted to write a novel about the challenge of being stuck inside your own consciousness and not being able to live inside anyone else’s mind and how difficult that is.
What do audiences have to look forward to in this movie?
The film is very moving. The friendships feel real and you will emerge from the movie feeling grateful for your own friendships. My favourite movies when I was a teenager and into my early 20s were Reality Bites (1994) and Stand By Me (1986), which didn’t fit into specific genres, they were just good films. I wanted to make a good movie that people will really enjoy and I think Paper Towns is a funny movie with a good heart.
Paper Towns is out in cinemas across GCC from Thursday July 30.